Episode 78: Discussing quality, quantity, and boredom during horse training

Ep 78: A listener called in a question about training her first two year old. She is struggling to find the balance between quality vs quantity and also a concern of causing boredom during the training process. Stacy explains her views on finding a balance between quality and quantity beginning with the idea that quality always matters and quantity is often part of ‘seasoning’ a horse.
Stacy also explains her view that boredom is GOOD for horses…but that the caller may be confusing signs of frustration or confusion with boredom.

Click to expand notes

[00:00:03] Podcasting from a little cabin on a hill. This is the Stacy Westfall podcast. Stacy’s goal is simple to teach you to understand why horses do what they do, as well as the action steps for creating clear, confident communication with your horses.

[00:00:22] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy and successfully train your own horses in this season. I’ve been answering questions that people call in. So let’s go ahead and listen to today’s question.

[00:00:40] Hi, Stacy. My name is Katie and I’m from Michigan. Thank you so much for your podcasts. I enjoy it and they listen a lot. I have been around horses were pretty much my entire life showing and enjoying that, but I have my first first ever two year old. I got her untouched last December as a yearling and now she is two and we’re taking it nice and slow. And I’m enjoying getting to do the whole training process myself. But my question kind of includes quality vs. quantity. And I think that’s kind of vague. But it kind of shows you where my mind is with her to know whether I need to do something. A lot of times so that it’s really solid or whether, you know, if I get it a couple times, I just want to do it and quit so that she doesn’t get bored. And obviously, I don’t have as much time as when I was a kid. I have a job now, so this is a little more relevant to me as maybe I have to kind of pick and choose what I can do with her. So I would love to hear your thoughts on that. And thank you so much. Stay safe. You’re a blessing.

[00:01:50] Congratulations on your two year old Katie. And thank you for the question. This is gonna be pretty fun to explore because there’s several ways to look at it. First of all, I think we have the words quality, quantity and boredom to discuss. I think when the question of quality versus quantity comes up, it naturally brings up a challenge because it pits one against the other. Quality versus quantity. Instead of saying quality versus quantity, I’m going to say that in the end, five years down the road, 10 years down the road, at a later date, we actually kind of want both.

[00:02:36] Let me explain. So when you are talking about riding a young horse and you say, should you do something a lot of time so it’s really solid or do it a couple times that she doesn’t get bored? What I hear happening is there is a difference between elementary school, high school and college trained horses, meaning levels of training. So for sure, in that early time period you’re discussing, your horse would be in elementary school. Let’s imagine that when the horse goes up into high school, they’re now able to do like somewhere in high school. They’re now able to do a walk to Canter transition. That’s significantly further along than, you know, the first 30 days of riding a horse typically. So in elementary school, it’s much more common to be teaching horses. And if you listen to the last podcast, I kind of use the word triggers. It’s almost like we’re teaching the horse. Like, when I press here, you do this. And so when you do something really almost simplistic like that and in the example from the last podcast, I was talking about getting the horse to move away from your thumb to like move their hips. But we’re going to use a different example here. But basically, when you’re talking about early training and you’re talking about getting something to kind of have this that trigger. So the horse kind of gets an idea. Then. Too many repetitions actually can cause the horse doubt.

[00:04:15] So I think one layer of what you might be experiencing inside of this quality versus quantity is I think you might be onto that. And you’re saying this is your first young horse, so you’re not quite clear about it. So let me make it a little bit more clear for you. So an older horse can do something over and over and over again and get more confidence from the practice where with a younger horse, it’s sometimes will actually cause them to have doubts. So if I ask you a question, if you picture like a really young child and you could ask them a question like, you know, what color is that apple? and lets say that it’s red. And they say red. And you say, well, geez, we need to practice this more. Me ask that 20 more times. Well, sometime around, like question number 15, they might be like, I don’t know if it’s red anymore. This automatically made me think of like when you watch the shows were like a movie where, you know, somebody is just being drilled and drilled and drilled the same question over and over again. You can actually cause doubt. You’re asking the same question over and over again. So I think that part of what you’re experiencing would be that that young horse needs to have it’s like, what color is that? Red Yeah..

[00:05:35] Yes. Great. Good job. You know, so there’s less of the repetition and more of the celebration. And I think that is very true of introductions or the early level things that can mean that when you’re in high school with the horse and you’re working on something like lead changes, that can be another moment where those early lead changes feel a little bit more like this trigger. Like, you know, you’re like you ask and they count. You’re like hoping it’s going to work. If it works, you’re like, yay, you don’t go like, great, let’s go do 30 more. Because the odds of the horse being like, whoa, like maybe that was the wrong answer. Maybe I’m supposed to do something completely different. So in elementary or introduction of things, the rewards come quicker and there do tend to be less repetitions. So let’s put this into an example. So let’s say I go out to Lungi Horse for the first time. So I’m standing on the ground. I’m sending the horse around me. Let’s say that, you know, I’ve been working on some groundwork for a few days. And now on this day, I’m like, I’m going to teach this horse that when I kiss, when I make this kissing noise that it means to lope. So what I’m going to do is also gonna be going around. I’m going to kiss the horses, not going to lope because it has no idea what it means.

[00:07:01] Then I’m going to make it happen. So I’m gonna reach out there and I’m going to use my stick and string, my lunge whip. I’m gonna make the horse go up and lope, and I’m gonna do that over and over again until when I kiss. The horse goes “the last 20 times that she did this. She didn’t stop until I stepped off into the lope” and the horse steps off in the open. I’m like, yay! Now listen to this. A lot of times right after they step off into the lope, they lope maybe I’d say about 70 percent of horses lope two or three strides and go right back to the trot. Sometimes that happens because they’re inexperienced and they don’t have their balance, so they don’t know how to carry themselves well on the trot. So even while on a circle, so even a slightly harder horse will come back to the trot. Some horses are lazy and they step up into the lope and then they notice you’re not making them continue on. And so they just come back to the trot. I will still reward the horse that just steps up into the Canter and then comes right back to the trot. Because I was just asking for a stride of loping is not a big deal. But as that horse advances, you know, we go a while down the road and maybe we want to see them loping for 10 laps around us.

[00:08:21] Like I’ve talked about with Presto. So that’s gonna be a more advanced version. So at some point, I’m going to transition between. His means lope, and if you lope, if you lope off, I’m I’m going to do nothing to make you continue because all I literally wanted was you to have that one right answer. And that’s going to be enough for right now. And then later on, I’m going to start to ask for a little bit more and a little bit more until the horses eventually loping 10 laps around me. I think it’s actually kind of a big deal for the horses to have these these wins. I’m gonna call it a win. Like where it’s like you kiss and, you know, you’ve already had to correct like 10 times in a row because they had no idea what it meant. So you had to, like, kiss and then make it happen, kiss and then make it happen, kiss and then make it happen. And then you kiss and they lope off and you’re like, hey, I think the idea that they keep being allowed to slow down and break gate is a benefit in the long run. Now, you could very easily, in the short run, just make the horse continue going. You could just be like kiss, lope, good, kiss, lope.

[00:09:34] Good. OK, don’t break gate. You know, you could really kind of force it all to happen inside of one time. But I have found over the years that with most, many, many horses, some really lazy ones, maybe not, but for a lot of horses, they get a little frazzled by that level of intensity in the early stages because they don’t feel like they are part of the conversation. It’s kind of like you’re going to lope 10 times around me this first time. I want you now. And they’re a little like, whoa, like there’s just so much intensity that comes with it. And what’s interesting is that I think this is where people sometimes erace the idea from the horse’s mind that slowing down as possibility. So you can take a lot of these horses and make them look hotter than they really are when you do this real quick in the beginning, because you’ve kind of just said, like you, instead of rewarding that first loped stride and taking that as enough and building that over a period of days, you make them just go, go, go. And they’re just like, whoa, this just gets intense and everything goes fast. Think about their mind is going fast because they didn’t get to explore the thoughts along the way. So that’s one way to look at it. Well, let’s look at this in another way. Another way to look at what you asked was boredom.

[00:11:01] So you said that you were a little bit concerned about, you know, the horse being bored. And I would like to challenge that thought just a little bit because, again, I think that what I just described would be more of a confusion on the horses part. So let’s say that you you are introducing something and the horse gets the answer and then doesn’t get the answer and then gets the answer. I think that if you just push it a whole bunch of times, I don’t think it’s boredom at that point. I think they get confused. And I think sometimes confusion will also look like horses throwing 16 different answers at you. And that’s not boredom. That’s that’s more of a frustration and a guessing game. I want my horses to be mentally kind of slower thinking. I want them to actually experience some level of boredom because I want them able to find a rhythm and relaxation. So what I find is that. I like to create boredom for my horses. And I actually like to do it for myself, too. And leaving some of that empty space brings up different things. So when I’m lunging Presto, which I’ve gone over it a bunch of different times and different podcasts. So maybe I lunge him two times around to walk ten times around at a trot, 10 times around at a lope. It’s a little bit boring, but I want him to kind of settle into that and know how to just kind of accept that as just a piece of it.

[00:12:43] So there’s a lot of things in life that are just a little bit boring. And I would actually propose that boredom is really easy for a lot of horses to figure out because I just notice to have a bunch of mine turned out. And, you know, they ran around a little bit at the beginning, but they’re kind of hanging out in the sun and, you know, walking over here and nibble a little bit of that and standing in the sun some more. And so I think that when we spend time with our horses, we’re going to talk about time in just a minute. But when we talk about time with the horses, sometimes boredom is a good thing because it actually for the horse is like they’re accepting that they’re not always being entertained or stimulated or asked for a lot of stuff. And a lot of things that we really value in horses have this like, oh, look, this one looks like it will walk down the trail all day long without rushing. Oh, look, this one will go stand tied to the trailer for all day long without pawing. And this one, this one will go walk into the pen and loop through a reining pattern, real quiet if you want to go real quiet or you can ask for a little bit more and they’ll give you a little bit more.

[00:13:52] But they look a little bit bored because I think confident horses often look a little bit bored. Again, I actually think in your question that there was a little bit more of a of a different phrasing of your definition of bored and what how I’m defining bored here. But just consider that. When I look at a horse show, I remember you mentioned that you do some showing or have in the past on some showing. It’s interesting when people go to a show and watch the warm up pen. So I’ve been in the reining world for a long time and have taken people to first horse shows a lot of times. And sometimes people will watch somebody, a rider warming up and they’ll see a horse that’s really doing all these things. But when I watch the horse, it almost looks a little bit frantic. But that a lot of times and this is the warm up pen. A lot of times that will, like, draw the attention of somebody who’s new to the horse show and the like. Wow, look at that horse, because it’s doing all this stuff really fast. But if you have a more educated eye and you look around and this is true, multiple different disciplines. Not at all.

[00:15:10] This is true. You’ll look around and you’ll be like, oh, yeah, see that one that looks real boring over there. Like the warm up looks a little boring and everything looks pretty quiet. That’s the one you want to keep your eye on because everything’s so solid. That confident horse doesn’t necessarily draw your eye because they’re not they don’t have that energy about them as this frantic. And then you watch them go in and they just I’ve seen this was really great barrel horses, you know, outside. They just look borderline lazy. There’s real relaxed and quiet and whatever. And then you watch me, they go and you’re like, wow, that was amazing. Smooth, fast. But I think that’s because that is that mind being reflected in the body and that body reflecting what the mind is doing. So I just I love to play around with the words that surround this. Something else you mentioned were your current time limits. And I know that we already talked earlier in this podcast about the idea of teaching horses like a concept or like a trigger or the elementary school. Those kind of ideas, those fit really well into shorter time periods. But the other thing that a lot of us value in horses is a horse that we might call seasoned or experienced or well seasoned horse. So is is typically a horse that has a lot of experience.

[00:16:42] And this is where I think as much as you can do great training in. You really can do amazing amount of training in a short amount of time. The one thing that you can’t do, in my opinion, in the short amount of time is the seasoning, like the seasoning. To some degree has a ‘time’ element with it. And the you know, the idea of the seasoning having a time element is still more complicated than that because, OK, let’s look at it like this. You could go out and work with a horse 20 minutes a day. And I’m telling you that at this point, as a professional trainer, I can get a lot done in 20 minutes. I can get a lot done in 20 minutes. And that’s a good thing. So you’ve got you could go out and do 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes, literally. All you’re doing is just, you know, increasing the amount of time. So you could increase that amount of time and create a frantic horse or you could increase that amount of time and you could create a bored horse. There are some limitations when you just stay at the shorter time because all horses have a different level of requirement to reach seasoned. So you can find some horses that are just really level headed and, you know, they just seem like they figure things out quickly.

[00:18:06] Those ones can appear seasoned in half the time of some of their counterparts. So you could argue it both ways. You could say that that horse, if you let’s just use an hour. I mean, you there’s all kinds of different ways you can look at this outside of even the horse world. But there’s that idea of like, you know, people become experts at 10000 hours. You know, there’s a books written about the 10000 hour rule. You look at sports figures and you think, you know, how long does somebody practice to reach that level in that sport? And so those are the things I’m talking about that are like there is a time element that is required there. But the way it is with horses is that some horses require less seasoning and some require more some riding disciplines you can do with less seasoning and some really benefit for more. Most will benefit from more seasoning, but some you can really do on the earlier side and some you just can’t. So, you know, dressage pops into my mind about that’s not one you can just kind of jump into on the early side where there are some other disciplines that you’ll see horses being shown and they have a year of riding. And so that’s not going to be the same as a discipline that virtually requires, you know, years of riding to achieve.

[00:19:26] So the discipline makes a difference and then people’s expectation, that’s huge. That’s a ton of variable. That is really variable. Meaning like what one person considers a well seasoned horse and what another person considers a well seasoned horse can look so opposite and different that it’s quite shocking. You know, it’s like somebody could really accept a horse that has a very that is still, you know, jumpy or skittish or whatever and be like totally fine, you know, because that’s their perception of what they’re okay with. And then somebody else is like, oh, no, this one needs two more years of, like, intense hauling and all kinds of experience and exposure to different things. So I think when you are considering that, you actually have to look at it a lot deeper. And the reason I say that is because I know this personally on several different levels. I feel the pressure of quality versus quantity. Almost every day. And I think the reason that I feel it so intensely is because of my level of experience. So I know quality is really important. So for sure, if I’m doing something with a horse where quality will go down hill because of their training level or because of, like, physical fatigue. You know, so some of the things that I might do with the horses are actually physically fatiguing to the point where you could lose quality over that, just like you’d have somebody weightlifting can only lift so many times and stay in a correct form.

[00:21:10] So it’s easier for me to measure the quality on that time. But on the days where I want to have a long, slow day, because I think that the horse needs more than a whole bunch of successions of 20 minute days, I think they need some of these days where it’s like longer, it’s got more of a methodical, more of a boring, more of a hanging out time, almost quality to it. It is finding the balance between those that is an art form and it is individual depending on the horse, the rider and your experience level. And I know that when I know this much, I can leave you, like, almost over thinking it. So I try to factor in everything that I can and I keep track of it on a calendar and I try to keep track of it with, you know, different goals and things like that. And I know that if my horse starts to feel a little bit like so if I’ve done a lot of 20 minute sessions that are shorter and they have a lot of little trigger things in them, maybe that’s making that horse a little bit more like anxious because they’re like, oh, the next one’s coming to the next one’s coming up. The next one’s coming. That’s a sure sign that this horse needs the things stretch out a little bit more.

[00:22:35] And so I’ll go out there and I’ll put in some longer days and stretch that out a little bit more. It’s one of the reasons that I live where I do, where I’ve got the state park out the backdoor so I can go trail ride and have these days that are longer. But I know that short days are going to happen and long days are going to happen. And I just kind of embrace that, even though I’m still uncomfortably aware of the idea that on any given day I question. I know I’m going to do quality, but I go. I could probably do twice as much. But no, this is enough. But I could probably do twice as much. And I’ll get there faster. But no. This is enough. That is real. The beauty of my experience kind of getting to where it is at this point is I’m not in a rush anymore. And what that means to me is that I’m riding my own horses. I’m accountable to me. I choose the pace. And even though I can hear that conversation happening in my head, you could do twice as much today. You have the time. Your horse isn’t out of energy. And then there’s another part of me that saying, but this is already gone really well. And I could also stop. That is still happening.

[00:23:53] But I’m a lot more comfortable with accepting where I am, even if it’s not pushing the edges of the most ever accomplished. So with Presto, if you’ve seen any of the videos and there’s going to be more videos coming out, if you haven’t seen as Happy Birthday video, you really need to go over to Stacy Westfall.com and watch the videos of me making him a birthday cake and him eating the cake with a party. A very funny video. You can easily I can easily see other four year olds. They’re doing way more than Presto. A ton more. I have had horses that are doing more than Presto that were two years old. But let’s look at another way. I’ve had other horses that had this same amount of riding time, and we’re doing easily five, six, eight times more performance wise than Presto is. And I’m totally fine with the idea that I’ve chosen this pace. I still have that little thing in my head that’s I can still hear both of those, you know, conversations happening. But, you know, I know, especially when I put things out on Facebook. I know for sure that people can be like, wow, I wonder why she isn’t doing more. He looks like that’s going really slow. People can judge me for it. They can compare what Presto’s doing to other horses and they can say what they want to.

[00:25:22] But one thing I’ve really learned is that the only way that that really will trigger me is if if I’m not really confident about what I’ve chosen to do. So if I really doubt myself, if I’m like, man, they’re right, I really should be doing twice as much, man, then then their doubts, their judgments, their comparisons will trigger something, but only if it already lives inside of me. I know that because I’ve done that before in the past, where I’ve put something out there and had people judge it and, you know, felt sick about it and been like, oh, man, you know, they’re right enough. But it’s I’m not doing that anymore. I’m not interested in that anymore. So what I’ve learned is that when I make that decision in the barn that day. So today, for example, today’s a great example. It is absolutely beautiful weather outright now. And I’m not going to ride today. And it almost hurts to say those words. My horses are outside standing in the sun. And I’ve been driving a bobcat/skid steer because that’s my idea of gardening. Tons of rocks literally hauled in by dump truck and moving things around and doing stuff. It’s going to rain the next few days. The temperature’s going to drop. I’ll get stuck in the mud with the bobcat. Already done that once. Don’t want to do it again.

[00:26:44] I’m not going to ride today, but there is almost pain involved in saying that, even though I’m choosing it. But what I’m going to do is I’m going to go through this and I’m going to be like, nope, I’m going to go out. I’m going to do what I wanted to do with the gardening stuff today. I’m not going to ride. We’ve been riding a whole bunch. We’re completely fine. This is not going to jeopardize anything that I have coming up. I’m going to feel all that argument when the day is over and all the little arguments are passed. It’s going to be signed, sealed, delivered, done. And I will not allow myself to judge myself for it. So that means that three months from now, if something goes wrong on a trail ride or a horse show, I’m not going to be like holding myself to this day being a bad choice. So basically, I’ve got my own back and I know I could be doing more, but this is what I’ve chosen and that’s what I’m going to hold myself accountable to and accept.

[00:27:40] It was super cool when I did the online class with Ginny, where we did a class that we just released online called Goal Setting and Problem Solving. And a lot of this stuff came up because just like when we’re teaching the horses to think in these cycles, that is what I’ve learned over these years.

[00:28:01] I have learned how to train myself to think through these steps and these problems and problem solve and come out the other side. And I would even propose that there’s this wheel of decision making that we have inside of that course. And in this wheel of decision making Module six, when I was explaining it, I said, you know, what’s fascinating about it is that I go through this wheel of decision making, just like I am talking about today with the decision not to ride and the doubt that goes back and forth and accepting it and this cycle. This is a cycle I literally practice and I can do this cycle multiple times during a ride. And when I’m getting ready to go in and show it a very big show, this cycle of thinking, this power of making a decision. Having your own back and taking the next step. Making decision. Having your own back.

[00:28:52] This whole broken down cycle that we explain in there is literally what I’m doing over and over and over again. And I described it in the course like it’s like a it’s almost like a snowball. It’s a gaining speed. So when I’m going up to a show and we’ve talked about it on the podcast, where there’s sometimes you’re going to a show and it feels like your mind is speeding up, speeding up, speeding up. This ability to control your mind and have your back. It totally shifts your experience of when things get faster like that. And then the beauty of it is if your horse starts getting, you know, a little bit faster, faster, your not triggered to go along for the ride with it. So there’s so much good stuff here when you start exploring thoughts, opinions, judgments, your decision making, whether you believe in your decision making, all of this stuff, because this is the mind work, thought work. This is the rider’s mind we’re talking about.

[00:29:45] Which is for sure,one quadrant of the Foursquare model, and it touches all four quadrants easily. So that’s what I have for you today. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

[00:30:05] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit Stacy. Westfall dot com. For articles, videos and tips to help you and your horse succeed.

Links mentioned in podcast:

Goal Setting and Problem Solving course with Stacy Westfall & Ginny Telego :A Step-by-Step process to uncover your best ideas and overcome the challenges you will face as you take action to achieve them

Leave a Comment

Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest content and updates by email.